Like many of you, I have sat through multiple presentations and webinars regarding social media. While some may touch on it, and others may focus on it, the term “brand building” comes up quite frequently. While on the phone with a dealer recently, it occurred to me that a good portion of our peers may not quite understand brand building, and hence, have a hard time applying it in the real world. For social media, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Simply put, a brand is the identity of a business, product, or service. What comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about Nike? Now maybe Apple? I’ll bet somewhere in your mental imagery, classic white script across a red background came up, along with a swoosh, and a glowing white apple with bite taken out of it. These companies have done an extraordinary job of marketing a consistent brand image, and have created a culture surrounding their businesses. If you need more examples, just walk into your showrooms. You will see brand imagery everywhere.
What comes to mind when you think of your own dealership? (Note: this works best when you think of the positives.) Is it a dedicated, veteran sales staff? Is it consistent OEM recognition? Is it community involvement? What makes your store different from the one down the road? Hopefully, multiple things come to mind. Take those thoughts and jot them down.
Now think about how you want your customers to perceive your dealership. When they think about your store, what images do you want them to conjure up? How are they perceiving your identity on your website’s homepage? If you are drawing a blank, then it’s time to start working on that. Ultimately, it’s up to your business to craft that identity.
I think we are all well aware that Coke, Nike, and Apple have millions of dollars to commit to advertising agencies, not to mention the top-notch marketing talent they have available to them in-house. They are global brands competing on a global scale. Should you aspire to have their type of brand awareness? Absolutely! Do you need their millions of dollars to reach your market of 30,000 people? Absolutely not!
You have the advantage over national advertisers. You understand your own market better than they do. You understand how your closest consumers talk, think, and dress. If you are using your CRM properly, you may even have notes on where people go to church, where their kids attend school, and how much their fifth-wheel weighs. This information is available to you for free!
Speaking of free, those commercials you normally fast forward through are full of free inspiration. Try actually watching some commercials. What messages are you taking away? What tag lines are you hearing? Tune-in the next time you see commercials from mega-brands like IBM, Microsoft, GE, Red Bull, Starbucks, and UPS. Pay extra attention to what your OEMs are advertising and the images they are reinforcing. Take note of the fact they are not advertising “the largest inventory,” “rock-bottom prices,” or “(region’s) number one (whatever)…”
When you are ready to start coming up with brand ideas, talk to others. Bounce ideas off your spouse. Ask your friends. The wider the variety of people, the better. Then, sit down with your coworkers over some pizza and start brainstorming. Try to come up with one sentence that best describes your dealership (or department).
When you feel good about what your network has to say, have the same conversations with your most loyal customers. In fact, take a walk down to the service department and have that conversation with customers while they are having their maintenance performed. Find out if your brand identity is in line with a perceived value (be prepared for the worst). Compare notes. If the messages are the same, fire up the marketing machine. If they are not, you need to dedicate yourself and your teammates to bringing the ideas closer together. This is when you employ brand-building efforts (like social media, video marketing, and dare I say, a TV ad) to distill your message down for consumption by the masses.
Sounds like hard work, right? It can be, but it’s well worth it. Your customers will know what separates you from the competition. You will attract customers who are looking for an alternative to their local dealer. You will create a value proposition beyond price. Best of all, you and your teammates always have a guiding principle to fall back on in times of question. Trust me, you’ll forget about the hard work when you immediately start reaping the benefits. It’s “time to change everything,” “have a Coke and a smile,” and “just do it.”
There have been several great books that have been published about brand building or indirectly touch on the subject of branding. One that immediately comes to mind is the Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph Michelli. While it wasn’t written specifically about branding, it caused me to evaluate my business practices and offered some great perspective. It’s a short and compelling study so you should have no trouble finding the time read it. (I read it in one plane trip). If you have some books that have been inspirational to you, please share. Now that the gift-giving holidays have begun, we can add some books to our wish lists.
On our DealerKnows’ Virtual Dealer Training program, we help dealerships maximize the technology, solutions, and opportunities already in place. With this comes a considerable amount of negotiating with vendors to improve their products on behalf of our dealer clients. No system is perfect, despite what vendors say, and often it takes a fresh set of eyes to show a dealership what they are missing with that provider. Product enhancement requests flow when we take on a new client and our Virtual Training platform can help evolve your use of a system/site and can help the vendors get better as well. And there lies the rub.
With advancements changing in the online marketplace daily, vendors must realize their products must change as well…just as quickly. Dealers won’t wait around forever as their vendor clients continue to sit on their hands. So here is my challenge to every vendor:
I want a Vendor Scorecard. I believe vendors should create a scoring system that allows all of their dealers to see, review, and vote on what advancements their teams should put into action. Not support issues (though a Vendor Scorecard could be beneficial for this as well), but an idea exchange where people on the ground can tell the people in the high rises what their system NEEDS to be able to do. It could be a small password-protected community within your software that allows ALL dealers to post their product enhancement requests so that ALL other dealer clients can see. Make it available to your own loyal public. Each product enhancement request should be time-dated and stamped so we know just how long it takes the vendor to react. Not respond… react. Fix. Change. Develop.
Then, take it to the next step, and allow every dealer client to VOTE on which product enhancements they most desire to see active sooner rather than later. You will create your own weighted scale as to which improvements to focus on completing. If you so desire, consider giving those few dealers that utilize your system to its fullest, are your oldest clients, or represent you in the online communities a heavier VOTE than others.
The automotive resource site, DrivingSales, has taken one step by bringing Vendor Ratings into the forefront and asking the automotive retail professionals that peruse this site to vote on who and why they recommend the companies they’ve chosen. This has been a good way to help vendors gain exposure and allow dealer personnel to give feedback to their peers. When a vendor’s reputation is questioned on these sites, it is amazing how quickly they respond. They either scurry to cover up the negativity or do their due diligence to correct it before it damages their business.
The end goal here is to let your own community of clients that USE your product to IMPROVE your product. I think there is a progressive way to do this without risking a vendor’s reputation.
If you are a vendor reading this, please don’t hate me for saying it, but your product/solution/sites CAN improve. Not “will”, but “can”. You can enhance your offerings to dealers if you just listen closely to your current clients. Above and beyond negotiating with vendors on behalf of our clients and suggesting new technological opportunities, we help them get the most out of their current solutions and websites. When we look to improve a vendor’s offerings for our dealership clients, though, we see far too many no-brainer enhancements that still are not being implemented. When I request a change from a vendor or give them (free) advice on how to better their offerings, I hear the same responses constantly. “We are working on it.” “I’ll pass it along.” “That is scheduled to be in our next release of enhancements 6 months from now.” What else do I hear? “I don’t understand.” THAT is the problem. You aren’t using the product the same way an Internet Sales Manager or Sales Manager uses it so you have your blinders up to the real needs of your software.
Dealers are asking themselves daily: “Where the heck do all of my product requests go?” “How many times do I have to suggest an improvement for it to go overlooked?” “When will this feature become available or active?” “Is anyone listening to what I want?”
I see no better way to get a vendor’s attention than making product enhancement requests a centerpiece to their customer service initiatives. Customers will finally be able to track their relationship with the vendors and hold them accountable if need be. Make them time-stamped suggestions with enough of your constituents voting for it and there will be no way a dealer can have a deaf ear. It is time more vendors listen to their clients first instead of listening to their own random ideas.
As I said, this is a CHALLENGE. The first vendor who decides to make the direction of their technology a democracy by creating a similar Vendor Scorecard available for all of their dealers wins my approval and another blog post dedicated to their innovative ways. Fair enough?
Like some of you, I am just getting caught up from nearly two weeks of conference action in Vegas. After attending and participating in three conferences (I only know a few who stayed for four!), my head was left full of charts, graphs, concepts, and ideas. Beyond the sensory overload from all of the content, one thing became abundantly clear to me: I was surrounded by people with passion. Pure, unbridled, go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, passion. Hearing people tell their story, wildly gesticulating with their excitement. The enthusiasm was contagious!
Many of us have passions in life. For some, it’s the outdoors. For others, it’s sports. Still for others, it’s working in the garage. You can debate for hours about the best way to rebuild a carburetor. You work tirelessly on your fantasy football team at all hours of the night. You spend weeks scouting out the best place to put a deer blind. You have rooms dedicated to mounted fish, classic Fords, and the New Jersey Devils.
I’m one of the guys who’s extremely passionate about his career. I love what I do! I rarely ever stop thinking about how I can improve processes, discover efficiencies, or make people more productive. I’m bouncing ideas off my friends in the industry all of the time (and they are always bouncing ideas off of me). I know my wife wishes I’d take a break in the evening, but she tolerates it because it’s what I do. I feel like the car business found me and I’m going to give a 100% back.
I know many of you, however, don’t feel that same passion. Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a dead-end job or someone around you constantly drags you down. Well I have bad news for you: your customers can hear it, see it, and feel it. How are they going to tell you “yes” when all they see is ‘no’ ? Unfortunately, the car business is not one of lateral moves. You’re either productive or you’re packing.
If you’re lacking that passion, you don’t need to get a prescription. I’ll leave the pills to Pfizer, Glaxo, and Bayer. I’m merely suggesting you change your outlook on what you do for a living. When asked, I’m guessing most of you would say that you sell cars for a living. I would argue that the sale is the end result of what you do. Before that vehicle puts rubber to the road, rolls over the curb, and starts killing bugs (did I miss any?), you need to sell yourself first. If the customer is not buying what you’re saying, then you have a tall hurdle ahead of you.
So how do you change your outlook? It’s actually pretty simple. Start thinking about what you really do every day. You’re not some robot that picks up the phone, pecks away at the computer, and shuffles papers around. You’re a cheerful voice after a hard day at work. You help people save their hard earned money. You are your own business. You assure people that they are making good decisions. You’re solving people’s problems. You make lasting friendships. In some cases, you’re even helping people achieve their life’s aspiration. You’re not selling cars: You are changing people’s lives!
Now I can hear the skeptics out there now saying that I’ve read too many books (and some other things that can’t be written here). To the naysayers, I say give it a shot. Talk to your customers with the same energy you would talk about college basketball during March Madness. Remind yourself that you are providing a valuable service to people. Sometimes it’s simpler than metrics and technology. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make all of the difference. What do you have to lose?
Originally posted 10/6/2010 on DrivingSales.com
For most of us, the fair season has come and gone. As I’m writing this, my son is at the county fair in the rural Michigan town where my wife and I grew up. Like most fairs in the Midwest, it’s all about 4H and Future Farmers of America; kids showing off their pigs, goats, and cows (consequently, my niece’s rabbit is Grand Champion). Like most other fairs in the Midwest, local businesses set up shop, politicians are there to shake hands, and all of the food is available on a stick. The car dealers all come armed with Mustangs, Duramaxes, Chargers, and the omnipresent balloons.
Then there are the carnival rides. Personally, I don’t ride anything that can be assembled overnight. The kids, however, go crazy over them. The one ride that always intrigues me most is bumper cars, or Dodgem, as it’s known in fair parlance. There are always three or four maniacal, fuzzy lipped, teens chasing down a dozen other people. One would think the whole point would be to live out one’s favorite traffic jam fantasy, and just plow through everything that gets in the way. That’s where the intrigue comes in: everyone drives away from each other.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I perform a lot of mystery shopping. One of the biggest fumbles I consistently see is that dealer personnel don’t ask questions in their email responses. Over these last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that most dealer personnel don’t seem to be good at answering questions either. A lot like Dodgem, a customer tries to bump their email into a dealership, only to have his or her efforts dodged.
First, let’s put ourselves in the customer’s comfy shoes. As John and Jane Customer, we work hard for our money and we don’t want to pay anything more than we should. We go to the Gap when things go on sale, and we go out of our way to Costco to get a 55 gallon drum of shampoo to save a few pennies per ounce. When it comes to cars, we are blissfully unaware of dealer allocations, regional option groups, and targeted residuals. Our grandpa was somehow able to order a L72 big block Malibu with dog-dish wheels and no air conditioning. When we drive by the dealership, we see an endless sea of vehicles with infinite possibilities.
Now let’s get back to reality. As dealer personnel, we know that manufactures build what they want, when they want. Our dealers still shotgun it and order what they think people want. In all actuality, most customers have no idea what they really want. This is how many good salespeople make great careers by becoming a valuable resource to their customers, then their customers’ families and friends. They know all of the subtle intricacies and help their loyal customers select the right car.
Is there any reason why the digital-age should change this? Absolutely not! If a customer was sitting in front of you and asked if a Grand Cherokee had full-time four wheel drive, you’d explain the difference between Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. But somehow in the email world, the response is “…we have plenty of Grand Cherokees to choose from. When can you come to the dealership to drive one?” Why not just answer the question: “The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is equipped with three highly sophisticated AWD systems. Are you looking for something to take you through the snow or do you plan on going off-roading? I can walk you through which system might be right for you” (that response took 57 seconds to write). Which email do you think is going to solicit a response quicker?
Before you sell a car, you need to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment. If Toyota is not building Spruce Mica Tundras, let the customer know it. If Honda only ships two-wheel drive Pilots to your region, say so. If Fiestas with manual transmissions are in short supply, then give the customer a heads up. Facing these questions head-on allows you to build rapport, add value, and start a dialogue. It makes you that valuable resource, thus making it much easier to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment.
The next time a customer emails you a question, think about bumper cars. Imagine your competition driving away madly from potential customers, while you square up for a head-on collision. Think about what you know and what the customer doesn’t. Make yourself indispensable in the shopping process. Now take your right foot, slam down the pedal, and go in for the hit!
Originally posted 9/7/2010 on DrivingSales.com
I bought a book a short time ago, and at the top it said: “Ignore this book at your own peril.” The quote is from the best selling author, entrepreneur, and Marvel Superhero Candidate, Seth Godin. Having read most of Godin’s books, I immediately bought the book he was endorsing.
While I won’t bore you with the details of the book (it’s an awesome read), it’s a prime example of buyer motivation. Although I had no intention of buying a book that day, I physically walked into a book store, browsed through the business books (yes I’m a nerd), saw the quote by Godin, grabbed the book, and promptly paid for it. The bookstore didn’t sell the book. The authors didn’t sell the book. The publisher didn’t sell the book. Seth Godin sold the book.
How often are you asking your customers how they heard about your store? How they decided what products to consider?
What prompted them to start shopping online? How they heard to ask for you? In fact, how often are you asking questions?
I’ve been actively mystery shopping dealers for the better part of the last five years, and it’s not very often that I’m asked personal questions. I’ve seen plenty of volunteered information about the dealership’s history, the General Manager’s name, and the MSRP of the vehicle requested. It’s not very often that I’m asked if it’s better to communicate via email or phone. I’m rarely asked if I’m considering comparable vehicles. There have been solar eclipses since I was asked how I chose their store.
Why is this question so critical? It’s simple: it gives you instant feedback about how well your customer acquisition/retention methods are functioning. The answers could range from “I was searching the Internet for good deals on Chevys” (that SEO is paying off), to “One of my friends mentioned your name on Twitter “(high-five to the social media gal; get the bird-dog check in the mail), to “I saw your ad in the newspaper” (people DO still read those), to “I’ve bought my last four cars from you! You don’t remember?” (it’s officially time for a new CRM). Asking this one simple question gives you the pulse on what methods of outreach are working in real-time. As an added bonus, it gives you insight into how your customers make a decision.
If a customer’s cruising Google for good deals, it’s more likely that they are value conscious and not too dealer-loyal. If a customer reacts to a Facebook post from a friend, it’s likely that they are influenced by third parties and that they are looking for objectivity/credibility. If a customer is responding to a newspaper advertisement, they’re more likely to be reactionary and more of a “traditional” shopper. Is it not easier to respond with valuable information when you know which hat to put on? Is it not easier to make investments if you know it’s already paying off?
Although I’m pretty sure I’d turn elsewhere for car purchasing advice, Seth made it easy for me to spend $22. Your customers are following various sources of advice everyday to get that same guidance. These sources of influence are selling your product, selling your process, and selling your dealership. The good news is that it’s much easier to find out who or what these sources of influence are than you think. All you have to do is ask!
Hey, by the way…what made you click on this post?
Originally posted 8/4/2010 on DrivingSales.com
Jimi Hendrix is regarded by many as the greatest rock guitarist ever. Innocently enough, he taught himself how to play guitar, practicing many of the same R&B songs his 60s contemporaries grew up playing. He gigged with several local bands around the country, traveled to different venues around Europe, and paid his dues like everyone else. Then one day he turned the volume up to 11. He turned distortion and feedback into harmonies. He experimented with different recording methods. He modified his tools to meet his needs. (If you just teleported in from another dimension, do a YouTube search for Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner.) He fundamentally altered rock guitar forever.
Technology didn’t make Hendrix great. He was still a prolific guitar player long before the advent of electronic effects and amplification enhancements. He took what was available to him, used his imagination, and made it better. The fact of the matter is that any of us could buy the exact same rig that Hendrix used, and his corpse could still outplay us. Technology doesn’t make you better. You make technology better.
Many of us (myself included), go after the latest and greatest technology as soon as it’s available. We fall into that feeling that if I had this new widget, then I could… In most cases we end up mildly disappointed, lying to ourselves, or locked up in a four-year contract. That new golf club may have increased your drive, but did it profoundly change your handicap? Did that new table saw make a better piece of furniture? Did that new photo editing software make you a better photographer? My guess is that you’ll soon be in the market for a new putter, a new jointer, or a new camera.
The very best tools can be rendered useless without the basic knowledge of how to efficiently maximize their output. How many times has a sports car left your dealership and returned shortly thereafter as a pile of metal, plastic, and rubber? How many times has a pickup come back to the store with broken leaf springs or a caved-in tailgate? How many economy cars are back in service with burnt clutches and bent shift forks? Despite the warnings (and common sense), the inexperienced drivers had to learn the hard way about what their new vehicle could, and could not do. The drivers didn’t take the time to explore their capabilities, learn about their vehicles, or practice what they’ve learned.
The same holds true for new dealer technologies. We fall into that same “spend our way out of our novice” approach. We fail to learn about the capability of the tools we already have. We fail to practice the new skills we learn. We fail to become self-sufficient, and rely on our teammates (or rely on a community of experts). We fail to experiment.
What good does it do to create a new website to drive more prospects to an already overwhelmed staff? How much impact can multiple phone numbers have if “when can you come in” is the extent of a staff’s phone skills? What’s the sense of acquiring third party leads just to keep a dealer’s staff busy (true story)? Did the technology sell two more cars upon implementation, or was it the $1000 in conquest cash that the OEM offered at the last second?
It’s important that we remain objective regarding new technology. Certainly new systems, methodologies, and enhancements will continue come out. But, just because the big dealers are doing something, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Take some time to think about how much effort you and your staff will have to put into using a new system. Then think about what you could do by taking the same effort, and dedicate it to training, role playing, learning about the existing system, or practicing phone scripts. You have good business sense. Listen to what your gut tells you about a new technology. For most technology to achieve its full capabilities in your dealership, recognize that its success will be predicated upon the amount of time your staff gives to it. If you’re not ready to crack a sweat, then maybe it’s not the right time.
Some things will always hold true. Roger Federer will still crush the average tennis pro using a garage-sale wooden racket. LeBron James will still beat most at HORSE while playing barefooted. Jimi Hendrix will forever be a rock legend. Consider new technology when you know your staff has outgrown the tools they already have. They need to be ready to play at volume 11.
I was on-site training a new dealer client’s BDC team last week when I heard the most disturbing thing. The phone rang and the BD agents began a discussion that went something like this…
“Who’s turn is it?”
“Not mine either.”
“Well I just had one, like, two minutes ago.”
“So did I.”
“I think it’s your turn so you take it.”
“I’m in the middle of an email. Can’t one of you?”
“But it’s not my turn.”
It was about this time, during the 9th ring of the phone, that I raised my voice and hollered, “Someone pick up the (darn) phone! There’s a customer waiting!”
That outburst immediately got their attention and at least motivated one of them enough to answer the call. With a little side-by-side guidance from me, she was able to set an appointment with the prospect. I wonder how many more rings that customer would have waited through before hanging up and calling another dealer.
Your dealership team must realize that the phone is the lifeline into the store. I am of firm belief that if you know how to handle an inbound sales call, you never have to take an up in your life. Maybe it is just the fact that in most Business Development Centers, the phone rings so often it is overlooked. Had that call gone to the sales floor, in this economy, someone is liable to get stabbed by a coworker for the chance to get the lead.
This was a terrible game the BD agents were playing with an inbound sales call. It is the automotive dealership’s version of playing Hot Potato. I see it happen with both phone calls and internet leads now and again during either my in-store consulting or Virtual Dealer Training. When I asked them why that exchange took place, their excuse was that they only wanted to be fair to the other team members. They want everyone to have a shot at setting an appointment. But when do you say enough is enough? I didn’t want to “tattle” on them to the ownership and suggest they might have a crew too passive to be effective as appointment-setters because I feel everyone can be trained. Everyone can get better with some coaching. In this instance, my first lesson to them was that sometimes it is better to be greedy than it is to be fair.
Let it be known that I am 100% in support of having a trained, aggressive Business Development Center team handling inbound sales calls much the same way I believe there is a value to having prepared professionals in an Internet Sales Department managing leads. There is a benefit to having specialized workers with defined skill sets in these positions. I’m also all for having a fair distribution of opportunities (phone and email) between those team members. What I cannot support is when department policy interferes with the level of support you should provide a prospect.
When that phone rings, imagine it is a mystery shop you are receiving from your owner’s 20 group. You do not want to be the reason your dealership scores low marks in front of their peers. That could lead to a job loss if the call is mishandled poorly enough. But let’s look beyond your job security and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. When you call into a place of business, do you want those employees to look at the ringing phone as an albatross? A chore? Of course not! You are a potential customer that wants, nay, deserves a professional greeting, a kind response, and an intelligent answer to your question. Recognize this and handle all calls accordingly.
I know this doesn’t happen in many places, but it does indeed happen. Watch out for it. Listen to how the calls are being handled and make adjustments… for your sake and the customer’s sake. And for gosh sake, please stop playing hot potato with your sales calls.
Dealers have been paying too much for too long. We know that dealers have been among the hardest hit during the recession. That’s why our training offers all the solutions of expert trainers, without the first class plane tickets and indulgent accommodations. You can’t afford to let your competition run away with your market. Now you don’t have to.
A page full of numbers is not information. Without the proper context, it can be difficult to measure your performance. We constantly monitor our clients metrics to make sure they remain on the path to success. As we like to say, “the truth is in results.”
Does anyone want to talk to support staff? We pride ourselves on an open line of communication with our dealers. In fact, we provide multiple means of communication with our clients to make sure they can get the answer when it matters most.